How Beekeeper is rethinking communication and community

Should employees be texting on the job? Photo credit: Getty Images/mangpor_2004 (Author and presidential speechwriter James Humes once called communication the “language of leadership,” and he may have been on to something.)

Author and presidential speechwriter James Humes once called communication the “language of leadership,” and he may have been on to something. Modern businesses need immediate and accurate communication methods between leaders and employees, something that companies such as Beekeeper, a digital workplace app, are providing.

When Flavio Pfaffhauser and Cristian Grossmann founded Beekeeper in 2012, the two of them envisioned creating a communications app to build a sense of community between college students preparing for the professional world. However, not long into their venture, they shifted their focus to target the business world, and Grossmann said the pair found a willing participant in the hotel industry.

Cristian Grossmann. Photo credit: Beekeeper

“No other industry has this 24/7 nature, where there are long working hours and something always happening,” Grossmann said. “A digitization of the hotel means a lot of different things to many different people, and we want to leverage technology to reach every single one of your employees.”

Beekeeper provides a mobile application to all hotel employees, allowing operators to distribute news or engage with singular employees or groups using direct messaging. The app includes a peer-to-peer chat messenger that allows users to share documents, and management can also control scheduling and events through the app as well.

According to Grossmann, the untapped opportunity in the communication space is fully putting employee smartphones to use. He described smartphones as a “shadow IP” that almost every employee in the U.S. has access to, but businesses fail to take advantage of their capabilities.

For example, Grossmann said the app’s scheduling component was rolled out for a variety of reasons, all of which take the utility of smartphones into account. He described speaking to an employee at a Marriott property who said she traveled one hour to and from her home every Sunday to check her schedule. After learning she could see the same information on her phone using Beekeeper, she became emotional.

“It’s unheard of for many of us, but for many employees this is how they spend their weeks,” Grossmann said. “With technology like this, this employee now has two extra hours on Sunday for herself.”

Because technology requires a certain budget threshold to be viable in hospitality, Grossmann said Beekeeper’s primary target is upscale and luxury hotels with large staff sizes. To his point, the company recently inked a deal with the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York to equip all of its employees with Beekeeper messaging. These employees also have access to a translation feature that allows for fast communication despite language barriers. The app currently is calibrated for 30 different languages, but Grossmann said the translation feature is still designed primarily for internal communication.

“Our focus is on strong employee-to-employee communication,” he said. “By offering employees the opportunity to read messages from their superiors in their language of choice, we are ensuring fast, easy communication at all times. When there are specific requests forwarded to an employee in another language, that is where the tool is useful.”

As for what’s next for the company, Grossmann returned to a common thread throughout the industry: integration. Beekeeper wants to become the sole communications hub for a hotel, and by working with other apps to eliminate disparities Grossmann thinks this is very much in the realm of possibility.

“So far we’ve integrated into a few hotel, HR and payroll systems, but there are many [technologies] and apps that could work with us,” Grossmann said. “Mainly property-management systems, maintenance systems and others in that vein would be great for seamless integration. We want to have an even simpler employee system in place, and we want everything under one roof as a one-stop shop with the Beekeeper app.”

Logic In Logistics 

One of Beekeeper’s greatest struggles right now lies in convincing hotel operators to move away from paper and oral communication. This is such a widespread problem that Grossmann refers to it as the “single biggest lever for operators to pull, if they are willing.” He said paper-based communication has a large degree of overhead tied to it, with employers often spending hours each day creating paper-based information only for it to be posted on a bulletin board to go unnoticed. Grossmann said bulletin boards are ineffective channels for communication with “terrifyingly low” percentages of acknowledgement from employees, and while oral communication can be effective for emotional communication, it is lackluster when it comes time to hold people accountable for decision-making. “We always joke with customers by asking them how many times they hear ‘you didn’t tell me that,’” Grossmann said. “An electronic record creates real accountability that is useful, and it's understood by both parties.

Clicking With Clients

Grossmann said Beekeeper is now realizing a variety of use cases that were completely different from what the company expected at its inception. This is nothing new for a company that is still getting over its reputation as a budding start-up as it steps into success, but while Beekeeper is still emphasizing the importance of its initial mission, to foster community building from within organizations, the scope of its desires have grown. This is partly a result of Beekeeper gradually coming to understand its customer set, namely the travel and hospitality industries. For instance, Beekeeper invested in a language translation feature only after the company began to understand the multinational nature of its client base, and now this feature has become one of the app’s standout features. “Another key feature is the swapping of shifts,” Grossmann said. “Heathrow Airport’s security teams use our shift feature to ensure there are no gaps in scheduling.”